I watch a lot of movies, but there are some that I just have no desire to see. I’ve mentioned before how I am not a fan of real icky gory splatter fests. That being said, I’ve pretty much avoided H.P Lovecraft adaptations like “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond.” But, I did decide to tackle the 1966 film “Die, Monster, Die!” which is loosely based on a Lovecraft story and was made well before the movies became obsessed with gore.
The story follows Stephen Reinhardt (Nick Adams), an American who comes to the British village of Arkham to see his college sweetheart, Susan Witley (Suzan Farmer). Upon arriving in town, Stephen tries to find someone who will take him to the Witley place, but all the townsfolk repel at the mere mention of the name. He ends up walking all the way to the estate. Along the way, he encounters a strange, barren landscape…full of trees that are crumbling to dust.
Upon arriving, he meets Susan’s wheel-chair bound father, Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff). He immediately tries to turn Stephen away, but Susan soon spots him. She is anxious to have him meet her mother, but dear old dad protests again. Susan takes Stephen upstairs, anyway. There, he meets her bed-ridden mother (Freda Jackson). After excusing Susan, mother, who hides behind a black veil, makes Stephen promise that he will take Susan away from this house…never to return. Susan doesn’t respond to this request well, though, insisting that she stay to look after her sick mother.
All throughout the visit, strange things happen at the Witley estate. During dinner, the family Butler, Merwyn (Terrence De Marney) collapses. Late that night, Stephen sees Nahum disposing of the body. Stephen also notices a strange green glow coming from the greenhouse. The next day, Stephen heads back to town to get some answers and is attacked by a strange black-veiled figure along the way.
When he returns to the estate, Stephen and Susan investigate the greenhouse. Inside, they find flowers, tomatoes, and other plants growing to gigantic sizes. In the soil for the plants, they find small chunks of a green glowing rock. Opening another door in the greenhouse, they end up in a dark room full of cages. Inside are bizarre, gooey, octopus-like mutant creatures. Stephen determines that some sort of radiation is the cause of all this. It turns out that Nahum has been using pieces of a meteor to create these mutants…he keeps it in the basement. Of course, dear old mom has been affected by the radiation, too, and is, herself, transforming into a monster. Now, Stephen needs to convince Nahum to destroy the meteor before it’s too late.
“Die, Monster, Die!” came from American International Pictures, which means it’s budget was likely not all that big. Yet, this is an impressive production. The sets are big, detailed, and really succeed in creating that eerie old mansion feel. There’s also some pretty impressive use of matte paintings to create the crumbling landscape around the Witley estate. These shots do show their age, but by 1966 standards they are quite good.
The story is kind of a fun mix between sci-fi and monster movie themes. Most of it works very well. However, there were a few elements that I wish had been developed further. The most interesting aspect of the story is the bizarre creatures in the greenhouse. Unfortunately, they only make one short appearance. I really wanted to see Nick Adams battling these mutant octopus things, but alas. I’m sure that one scene was probably all the budget would allow. Still, what we do get is a lot of fun. We may not get giant octopus action, but we do get maniac old women, monster plants attacking, and a mutant metal Boris Karloff.
Boris Karloff does exactly what we want out of Karloff…giving us a solid, mysterious performance that casts an eerie shadow over the whole thing. Nick Adams does a decent job, but there are a few things that seemed a bit off with his performance. Mainly, that he plays his part with a bit of a New York accent and attitude, but his appearance is that of a straight-laced, three-piece suit type. The two just don’t seem to jive.
I suppose for many, “Die, Monster, Die!” is Lovecraft-lite. Since I like keeping my lunch, that’s fine with me.